In Search of America's Next "Sputnik Moment," Obama Points to Local Teen as Country's Future

Before the first bell rings this morning, this inspirational moment ...

Perhaps you recall: Back in October, 16-year-old Amy Chyao, a junior at Plano's Williams High School, was among the whiz kids invited to the White House to show-and-tell their science projects to President Obama. Chyao's science project involved eradicating cancer with light, and it garnered a small fortune in prize money as the Richardson teen began sharing her ideas with the University of Texas at Dallas biology department.

She clearly made a big impression on Obama (or his speechwriters): Yesterday the president was at Forsyth Technical Community College in North Carolina, where he delivered this speech about the economy, education and how made-in-America will fix what's broke in America. And toward the end, he recalled that October visit:

The last person I spoke to was a young woman from Dallas, Texas, and her name was Amy Chyao. She's 16 years old. She's a child of immigrants. Her parents came to the United States from China, but Amy was born here. And when she was a freshman in high school, she got interested in cancer research. She had studied biology and she got interested in cancer research. So she decided -- get this -- she decided to teach herself chemistry over the summer. And then she designed a device that uses light to kill hard-to-reach cancer cells while leaving the healthy ones untouched. This is her summer science project -- (laughter) -- 16 years old.

She goes on to win the international science competition. All these kids from all around the world -- she wins the competition. So now she's being approached by laboratories all across the country who want to work with her on developing this potential breakthrough cancer drug that she's designed. Sixteen years old.

And I'm talking to Amy and pretending like I understand what she is explaining. (Laughter.) And as I'm listening to her, I'm looking at the portrait of Abraham Lincoln that hangs over her head in the State Dining Room. And I remembered all that we've been through and all that we've overcome. And I thought to myself, you know what, the idea of America is alive and well. We are going to be just fine. (Applause.)

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky